If people think imposing more controls on social media will change the fortunes of Big Traditional Corporate News Media, they’ll likely be in for a shock. The truth about “journalism” is that it is a profession that relies on a rather primitive aspect of the human condition — emotionalism. “Journalists” are in constant search of a story to tell. By their very nature, stories are designed to appeal to an old quirk of human cognition that favours a linear episodal revealing of information which is how a story is structured — it has a beginning and an end and, between these two points, a rising action phase peaking at a climax then a falling action leading to resolution.
Because “journalism” relies on stories to structure the information it delivers, it will never be up to the task of being a conduit for factual information. Factual information presented in non-linear structures like tables, matrices, and multi-variable logical constructs are boring. This is the reason facts never fly as news stories and, therefore, hardly ever make front page headlines in newspapers and why dictionaries, almanacs, and phone directories are not read from cover-to-cover.
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In short, we should all disabuse ourselves of the notion that “journalism” will save humanity from the “fake news” and “disinformation” that leaders of that profession insist proliferate on the Net and turn people into sheep and zombies. This does not mean that “fake news” and “disinformation” are not problems. They are and they are serious ones. However, “journalism” is not the “weapon” it is made out to be that can combat “fake news” and “disinformation”.
In the important fight we face against disinformation, “journalism” is a dull weapon. To become savvier at consuming and vetting information, we need to get on top of our bias towards stories. Stories are a cognitive relic we inherited from our ancestors whose historical and cultural traditions are stored in various story structures — epics, legends, and religious scripture, to name a few. “Journalism”, therefore, does not contribute to this much-needed cognitive leap because, for all intents and purposes, it is part of the problem its practioners presume to solve.
Consider this. The headline “Plane Crash kills 250” is a story that sends chills up frequent fliers’ spines and actually prompts many to think twice about their next overseas holiday. But the fact that your chances of being killed in a plane crash over a lifetime of flying is far smaller than the probability of you being run over while crossing a street elicits far less of such an emotional response and, often, does not change one’s perception of flying. On one hand, we don’t think much about taking unecessary risks on our streets everyday — jaywalking, trying to beat a red light, tailgating, counterflowing, etc. — but, on the other, raise a shrill howl at the slightest perception that even the smallest of safety procedures are not observed on a flight. That’s all because stories about plane crashes make headline news and movie plots whereas the dramas of driving and crossing streets don’t sell papers and movie tickets.
“Journalism” fills the gap between working at getting hold of reliable facts and our predisposition to sitting wide-eyed while an “elder” spoonfeeds us our daily-dose of knowledge delivered via stories. It’s a comfy service that puts the ability to poison minds at a massive scale in the hands of a tiny elite community of oligarchs. That obvious fact about the “journalism” profession and the “news” media industry that employs these professionals seems to escape the mind of most people.
Journalists may be made out to be some sort of hero or messiah under the current thinking. The “fight” against “disinformation” provides a good narrative to enforce that flawed notion about “journalists”. People need to step up and put in a bit more brain work into piecing together their own frame of thinking and not rely on the mere stories that they are told. The “journalism” profession and the news media industry make their money from telling people stories. We had, for so long, willingly submitted to the monopoly “journalists” and news media businesses hold on story telling. It is high time we broke that monopoly and, more importantly, get over our dependence on stories and narratives as our primary source of information.
Journalism still has its place — as a form of entertainment. But we are now in an era where reliable information is available and can be obtained independently with a bit of work and a bit more robust thinking.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.